Monthly Archives: February 2013

Easy Cassoulet à Ma Façon

Yesterday I was emptying my freezer in celebration of the Lent (which has already begun, but never mind) and here is what I found among many strange things you sometimes can find in your freezer: 1 duck leg, 1 chicken leg and a small batch of chorizo sausages. Does it ring a bell? For me it was a direct order to go and pre-soak the beans for a hearty cassoulet, which would be hard to beat in this cold, grey and wet Quebec weather.

Three cities in France are in parental competition for the birth of Cassoulet: Carcassonne, Toulouse and Castelnaudary.
Roughly, Castelnaudary claims to be the world capital of the version with duck or goose confit, while Toulouse and Carcassonne have their variations of lamb and pork ingredients.

The one I will never forget I tried in the port of Canal du Midi: was the duck confit variety, hence the Castelnaudary version appeals to me most and the duck leg became quintessential part of this dish to me. If you have any duck confit already prepared in your fridge, feel free to use it. Chicken legs would be an OK replacement for the student budget. Here is a classic recipe from the place of origin (sorry, its in French):

via Wikimedia Commons
And now, here is my twist on the recipe. First, French it up by boiling the beans with the onion pierced with cloves. While the beans are cooking, brown the duck and chicken legs along with sausages (mild chorizo or Polish kielbasa are the best choices for this dish) with a head of a garlic halfed. Deglazing with wine adds a layer of taste. Mix the beans, meats and veggies and cover with broth and tomato sauce.
The herbs from Provence successfully complete the symphony and your dish is ready to go to the oven. Special note about the crumbs: in the classic recipe topping dish with the crumbs is a must and you have to press it dish down 7 times during cooking. In my version I skip it for caloric reasons, but you are still welcome to use it if you want. Once ready, serve hot with a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape or Cahors.
Since it is called an easy recipe (which I also tend to like leaner), I also skipped the lard, pork and pork rind ingredients. By the way, you can easily turn this recipe into completely vegetarian by omitting all kinds of meat in it, however, it will not be a cassoulet anymore, as the major flavor of this dish is coming from the combination of the meat ingredients and beans mingled during slow cooking. No matter how hard you will try to cut on fat or calories, Cassoulet is so rich that usually you will have some leftovers. One of the ways to re-use them next day is to turn them into some healthy burritos.
Get your favorite tortillas and few slices of cheese; give a quick stir to sliced green pepper, onion and garlic; make a wrap with all the ingredients and bake it in the oven for a few minutes. Add a little cucumber, radish, avocado salad and a choice of yogurt and salsa and, voila, a healthy, nutritious and balanced meal is ready!
1 lb white beans
1 onion pierced with 2-3 cloves
1 duck leg
1 chicken leg
1/2 lb chorizo sausage or kielbasa cut into 1/2” slices
1 garlic head cut in half
1/3 cup of white wine to deglaze
1 carrot coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk coarsely chopped
2 cups tomato sauce or coulis or 1 can (15 oz) of diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons dry thyme
1 teaspoon of dry sage
2 bay leaves
pinch of chilli peppers
1/2 cup bread crumbs (optional)
Soak beans overnight or 6-8 hours before cooking. Drain, rinse, cover with water, add a small onion pierced with a few cloves and salt and simmer for about 1 hour or until al dente. Discard the onion.
Preheat the oven to 300F
Season the duck leg, the chicken leg with salt and pepper and brown in olive oil for about 5 minutes each side, then add sausages and 1 garlic head cut in half and continue browning for another 10-12 minutes to almost ”done” state. Add a good splash of wine to deglaze, then remove from pan and put aside. Add carrots and celery to the dry pan and brown them slightly. In the meantime, cut the browned meat in coarse pieces.
Mix all the ingredients: beans, meat and veggies in the Dutch oven, add the tomato sauce, the chicken broth and the herbs. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 1hour. Remove the cover, sprinkle with bread crumbs (if using) and put back in the oven for about 1/2 hour or until the beans began to split and the broth has thickened. When ready, mix carefully discarding bay leaves and garlic head, and serve immediately.

In Search for a Dream Macaron on Valentine.

Its Valentine day, and nothing can be better for this occasion than some fine French creation: culinary or otherwise. Times and trends can come and go, but as long as what you choose for your Valentine is French and romantic, it is still a symbol of AMOUR. How about some exquisite Parisian specialty like “Paris macaron”? Macaron lovers (or just lovers) know that barely any other confectionery can compare to the sweet, moist perfection of this delicacy.

A Valentine cliché? Not really when finding a real French macaron is a daunting task. I wish I could be now between those celadon walls of Ladurée pâtisserie in Champs-Élysées, sampling the double-deckers delicacy at the place of its birth. 

However, Paris now is further than Panama for me (almost like in a French song from Faubourg 36). I can still play the song (for the background of my quest), but where do I get a real French macaron from where I am?

Look at the subtle pastel colors of this Champs-Élysées lithograph image of 1900. Is not it exactly this rainbow palette you will find at a real French macaron place?
Avenue des Champs-Élysées around 1900 via Wikimedia
Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you: I am not even in Montreal now (where you can find French macarons pretty much everywhere). I am in the downtown Toronto (which takes this quest to a different level) and my time is extremely limited. So far I checked the perimeter of College, Yonge, Queen, and Spadina with no luck. Not that I did not do the research, but you never know… The quest brings me to Chinatown, which is probably the last place on Earth to find French macarons. Somehow, I run into this Valentine message:

Do you get it? Me neither… So far for the Valentine. Almost desperate, I am heading out of my designated perimeter straight to 1 King Street West, where, according to my map, the ‘’Petit Thuet’’ French patisserie is located. I approach the place, recognize the name of Toronto’s most famous Alsatian chef on the logo and step in. Bingo, I just made it to the real French macarons!

I got my rainbow of 12 of these little colorful almond-whitegg-sugar creations and was not disappointed. Looks like the macaron team trained by chef Marc Thuet is up and running delivering 12 tastes of French macarons daily.

The macarons are consistent, the shells break ”comme il faut” (just upon tooth-contact), the filling is a marvelous creamy burst of whatever the name of the flavor is. 

The winners for me were: salted caramel (no wonder its their best seller); raspberry, chocolate with ganache and wasabi & white chocolate with that tangy Japanese horseradish bite. Mission accomplished. Happy Valentine Yal!!!

Cuban Ropa Veija: Shredded Veal or Beef Recipe

One of the interesting ways to give your braised veal (beef) leftovers a new life is to turn it into another great dish, Ropa Vieja. It is a traditional Cuban beef stew, which look resembles a pile of old clothes (hence, the name Ropa Vieja). The initial version of ropa vieja contained leftovers of meat and originated from Canary Islands, Spain, like many other Caribbean dishes at the times of colonialization.

The legend goes: there was once an old man who was so poor he could not buy enough food to make a family dinner, so he decided to collect the old clothes (ropa vieja), fill them with his love and cook. When he cooked the clothes, his love has turned them into a wonderful stew.

During one of our trips to Cuba, we decided to try the authentic dish in one of the picturesque colonial houses of the old town of San Juan de losRemedios. It was so tasty, I had to take notes of the recipe from the chef (see the end of this post), however this twist on the leftovers of the braised veal shoulder blade will give you an idea why is it worth trying.
Not only the dish is savory and memorable, it’s a great way to feed a big party on a budget. This traditional Cuban dish will be especially tasty if you allow the seasonings to blend for a day after making. Plus, it is a very economical way to approach your protein consumption: you get just enough of it with the meal without adding any extra to your belly fat (sorry, I have been following the course on Nutrition and Prevention of Diseases lately, so I have a re-current nightmare of visceral fat slapping my face). The following are steps on how to turn your meat leftovers into Ropa Vieja. Shred the cooked meat with two forks; sautee one chopped green pepper, with onions and garlic; add the meat, tomato coulis, wine, dash of cumin and freshly ground pepper. 
Just simmer on the low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring often and serve with rice and black beans. 
I will definitely return to our adventures in Cuba in some other post, but, for now, here is the recipe from chef Lupe, who served us an unforgettable Ropa Vieja in Remedios.
2 ½ lbs flank or swiss steak, cut in strips
5 tablespoons cooking oil (olive or other)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 cups tomato sauce (or coulis)
1 cup water
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat 3 tablespoon of oil in the Dutch oven on medium and brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat and put aside. Add the remaining oil, stir in onion, garlic and green pepper and cook until translucent. Return the meat to the Dutch oven, add tomato sauce, water, wine, cumin, pepper and salt. Bring to boil and simmer on a slow heat until meat is tender and shreds easily, for about 2 1/2 hours. Serve with rice and black beans, or in tortillas. Add some sour cream, cheese and fresh cilantro on the side.

Milk-Fed Veal Canapés

Here is what you can do with the cold veal blade roast you made yesterday: an intricate appetizer. The veal is tender and accentuated; you can pair it with multiple toppings, and, there are lot of things you can do with the leftovers of this roast and its braising sauce. Enjoy it as a meal on its own (like we did during our recent fishing trip) or as an hors d’oeuvre for your next cocktail party with white, rosé or any of your favorite aperitifs. This recipe yields up to 40 canapés(of course you can make less and keep the rest of the roast for your next recipe) and the execution is super-easy.)
Once the veal blade roast (please see the previous post) is cooked, cool it uncovered for one hour. Discard bones, refrigerate until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated for one day. When ready to make the veal appetizers, slice the veal and prepare your own assortment of toppings to add a touch of style and taste to your canapés. Or just layer: raclette or camembert cheese, dash of pesto, onion confit and/or porcini from the roast. Enjoy!

Cheeses like camembert and raclette make a good pick for these canapés, but fresh white stilton with apricots can add an interesting twist, especially with some Dijon. If you decide to use bruschetta in your appetizers, drain it well to ensure the base of canapés will not get soggy. The Stoneleigh sauvignon blanc, Marlborough from New Zealand (or similar) pairs really well with seafood, sushi and fish, but in this case it brings the best out of the cold veal mixed with some tangy dashes!

And, if you have any roast leftover (which you probably will in the form of meat fibers, and an awesome braising sauce), use it for some delicious pulled veal sandwiches, or even better, make something that will instantly transport you away from cold to the Caribbean! Stay tuned for our next post where we will use our veal roast leftovers in a very special traditional way.
– milk-fed veal (or beef)
shoulder blade roast carved into thin slices
– canapés bases of your choice: croutons, crackers, pastry shells, mini-pitas, sliced bread
– camembert, or raclette, or white stilton or other cheese of your choice
– pesto
– onion/porcini confit from the roast braising sauce (optional)
fresh parsley or basil leaves
Assembling the canapés:
Select your preferred base from crackers, croutons, small puff-pastry shells, mini-pitas, etc.
Remove the veal shoulder blade roast from the fridge: scrape off and discard fat from the surface. Take the veal from out of the braising liquid, scraping any sauce back into pot (keep it for the next dish along with any leftovers). Pat dry the meat with a paper towel and slice it thinly against the grain.
Spread out the bases and begin to assemble the canapés in the following order:
– cracker, raclette or camembert cheese, dash of pesto, veal roast, onion confit with or without porcini (see the image). Decorate with parsley. Once all canapés have been assembled, cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Bon Appétit!
Adapted from Milk Fed Veal Quebec Canapés.

Veal Shoulder Blade Roast with Porcini

One of the specialties we brought from the Miboulay farm, was the veal shoulder blade, so I started looking  for the recipe. Unable to find any that would please me to 100%, I decided to apply the one I have been using for the beef shoulder blade for years. This one never fails to surprise. Its festive and decadent, and you can cook the roast up to two days in advance and then just put it back in the oven to heat. 

This roast is definitely a part of the cooking tradition known as la cuisine ”grand-mère” (grandmother’s cooking) for its simple ingredients and long cooking to ensure tender and flavorful meat. Today I am featuring it with polenta (the recipe will follow) turning it Italian way. However, mashed/new potatoes, cauliflower or just sautéed greens make excellent side dishes to this roast as well.

You can use a boneless chuck roast bringing the recipe very close to the first part of an Italian staple of ”vitello tonnato”, which I will surely post one day. But that is for the summer. In minus 25 degrees C we want this roast hot and steamy. I prefer the shoulder blade for the bones and that collagen that makes the cooked meat so much tastier. During the slow cooking process it melts and turns into gelatine, the umami factor of the dish. The bones give lots of gelatine too as well as a strong meaty taste to the broth.

Browning the roast before you braise it is important to seal the juices in the meat and thus add more flavor to the dish. Even though that means another dirty pan the difference in taste is well worth the cleanup. The slow cooking part should not discourage you from making this dish, as the steps are easy and ingredients are no-brainer for even a beginner cook. Not only you will enjoy it, but will have plenty of time to make a great side course or salad and do many other little chores while your place will be filled with the divine smell of roasting veal and porcini.

When served hot with polenta, this veal roast pairs beautifully with a glass of Blaye (Côtes de Bordeaux), such as reasonably priced 2009 Château des Tourtes Rouge.


1 handful of dried porcini
2 cups of boiled water (to soak porcini)
1 milk-fed veal (or beef) shoulder blade (1.5 to 4 lbs)
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 table spoon olive oil
1 garlic bulb sliced in half
2 yellow onions thinly sliced
1 bouquet garni (parsley (6), bay leaf (1) and thyme (3) tied with kitchen twine)
1 cup dry white wine (or  1 cup apple cider vinegar mixed with water 50/50)
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Boil 2 cups of water and soak the dried porcini in it for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, rub the milk-fed veal roast with the salt and pepper.
In a Dutch oven (or heavy pan) warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the roast and sear on both sides turning once for about 6 minutes in total. Add the garlic bulb to the pan roasting pan for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the roast and garlic bulb to a platter.
Add the onions to the pot and cook stirring for 1 minute. Gradually pour in the wine and deglaze the pot scraping the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add the strained soaking liquid from porcini and bouquet garni, return meat and garlic to the pot and scatter reconstituted porcini over the roast. Cover with aluminum foil and lid and put in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 325°Fafter first 30 minutes of cooking. Cook for about 3 hours in total or until the meat is tender.
Let the veal roast stand for 10 minutes, then discard bones, garlic and bouquet garni and carve crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Serve hot with pasta or polenta, top with porcini and spoon with the braising sauce.
OR , cool down the roast and keep it in the fridge until next day to assemble the cold veal canapés as an appetizer and to use the leftovers for yet another dish (see the next post).